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Britain Postpones Legislative Elections in N. Ireland


Britain has postponed legislative elections in Northern Ireland, saying the Irish Republican Army has not made clear its intention to give up all political violence.

The British government Thursday scuttled plans to elect a new legislative assembly in Northern Ireland on May 29.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy told parliament the decision stems from what he said was the Irish Republican Army's refusal to renounce political violence. "We believe there remains lack of clarity on the crucial issue whether the IRA is prepared for a full, immediate and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity, including military attacks, training, targeting, intelligence gathering, acquisition or development of arms or weapons, other preparations for terrorist campaigns, punishment beatings and attacks, and involvement in riots," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said elections cannot be held while the IRA continues paramilitary activity even as its political wing, the Sinn Fein party, fields candidates for public office. "There has to be a complete cessation of paramilitary activity from any party connected with a paramilitary organization that sits in government," said Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair said the election will be postponed until the latter part of this year. He said he will discuss possible dates with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Dublin Tuesday.

For his part, Mr. Ahern told reporters he disagrees with the postponement. He says it will cause more problems than it solves.

The Northern Ireland assembly was a key provision of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord aimed at ending three decades of sectarian violence.

Britain suspended the assembly last October following allegations of IRA spying. Pro-British parties said they could no longer work with Sinn Fein, which wants to merge Northern Ireland with the predominately-Catholic Irish republic.

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